Rally Australia preview

Both the Drivers and Manufacturers Rally Championships are wide open as the top teams journey to the coast of Western Australia for the penultimate round of the World Rally Championship, Rally Australia, November 9/12. The local terrain will ...

Both the Drivers and Manufacturers Rally Championships are wide open as the top teams journey to the coast of Western Australia for the penultimate round of the World Rally Championship, Rally Australia, November 9/12.

The local terrain will provide the key to the outcome, and the rally is likely to be decided after a tactical battle for the top places. The situation is created by the seeding system that defines which driver runs first on the road each day. Road conditions penalise the first drivers through each stage, as they struggle for grip on the fine gravel surface. The penalty for the driver running first can be as much as a minute on each leg compared to drivers going through the stages fifth or sixth.

The opening leg will see the leader in the Championship standings, Marcus Gronholm, run first. On the second and third legs, the leader after the penultimate stage of the previous leg will run first on the road. So no driver will want to lead at the end of a leg, unless he can build a big enough advantage to defend it to the finish.

Four drivers have a realistic chance of taking the Drivers Championship. Peugeot's Marcus Gronholm goes to Australia with a lead of five points over Subaru's Richard Burns, with Ford pair Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz tied a point behind. Marlboro Mitsubishi Ralliart's Tommi Makinen is a further 11 points adrift, but retains a mathematical chance of the title.

Gronholm is the man on form and, despite running first over the opening leg, will start as a narrow favourite for the series, if not this rally. He won two of the last four gravel surface rounds of the series, in New Zealand and Finland, but his experience here is limited to one outing, last year, when he finished fifth. Colin McRae and Carlos Sainz won in Greece and Cyprus for Ford, and McRae has a strong record here, winning in '97. Sainz, although never victorious, took second place for the last two years.

Richard Burns, after a lightning start to the season, has faltered, but this is one of his favourite rallies. He won last year and has two top five finishes as well. His pace on gravel, and his judgement of the local conditions will make him very hard to beat.

Tommi Makinen has scored his best result since May in the previous round San Remo Rally when he finished third, but the Mitsubishi has not shown the pace to equal Peugeot, Ford or Subaru during mid-season. He was victorious here in 1998 on the way to his third consecutive title and cannot be discounted, not least because he is a supreme tactician.

Freddy Loix, in the second official Marlboro Mitsubishi, knows this rally and has never finished outside the top seven in the last three years.

Subaru fields Juha Kankkunen as the second driver nominated to score Manufacturers points while Francois Delecour drives the second nominated Peugeot.

Behind the top four teams Seat and Hyundai will be hoping to pick up some points, but are most unlikely to compete on outright performance. This is Seat's penultimate rally at this level and both Didier Auriol and Toni Gardemeister would appreciate having a trouble free run, while Hyundai is still climbing the "learning curve" with Kenneth Eriksson and Alister McRae in the drivers seats.

Two additional factory Subarus could get into the points, driven by Petter Solberg and Markko Martin, and either could be used as a "hare" to run at the front and try to assist Burns' title chances by taking points from McRae, Sainz and Gronholm.

Ford has the young Finn Tapio Laukkanen, who is making his first appearance here and could also feature.

Rally route & format
Telstra Rally Australia is based at the waterfront Langley Park complex in Perth. The park provides the parc ferme and main end of leg service area and includes the custom built superspecial track for the opening and closing stages of the first leg and the last stage of the second leg. This track is a focal point for the event and during the evenings, before and after the superspecials the large audience is entertained with concerts and fireworks.

The rally starts on Thursday evening at Langley Park, then the remainder of the first leg takes competitors to the east of Perth for eight stages with service centred at Mundaring, before returning to Perth for the after dark superspecial.

The second leg runs due south of Perth with six stages centred on Harvey which provides the service area. This leg includes the rally's longest stage - Wellington - at 45.42 kms - and finishes with the third Langley Park superspecial.

The third leg is in the Bunnings Forest complex south east of Perth, featuring three stages between 25 and 37 kms before the final televised test of 2.73 kms. The podium and finish are immediately after the final stage.

<pre> Thursday November 9 Kms 18.30 Start - Perth 18.42 SS 1 - Langley Park Superspecial 2.2 18.58 Parc Ferme - Perth

Friday November 10 09.00 Restart - Perth 10.26 SS 2 - Helena North 1 24.14 10.53 SS 3 - Helena South 1 18.43 11.20 Service C - Mundaring 11.58 SS 4 - New Kev's 9.56 12.36 SS 5 - New Beraking 26.46 13.24 SS 6 - Flynns short 19.98 14.41 Service D - Mundaring 15.31 SS 7 - Helena North 2 24.14 15.58 SS 8 - Helena South 2 18.43 16.23 SS 9 - Atkins 4.42 16.38 Service E - Mundaring 19.30 SS 10 - Langley Park Super 2 2.2 20.21 Leg 1 finish -Perth

Leg 1 Total 10 SS - 149.96 kms

Saturday November 11 06.00 Start leg 2 - Perth 08.32 SS 11 - Stirling East 35.48 09.19 SS 12 - Brunswick 16.63 09.58 Service H - Harvey 11.13 SS 13 - Wellington 45.42 13.16 Service I - Harvey 13.54 SS 14 - New Harvey Weir 7.04 14.14 SS 15 - Stirling West 15.89 14.48 Service J - Harvey 15.56 SS 16 - Murray Pines 18.53 19.30 SS 17 - Langley Park Super 2 2.2 20.21 Leg 2 finish - Perth

Leg 2 Total 7 SS - 141.19 kms

Sunday November 12 05.45 Start leg 3 - Perth 07.32 SS 18 - Bannister West 35.29 08.18 Service M - SOTICO 08.52 SS19 - Bannister North 36.84 10.13 Service N - SOTICO 10.42 SS 20 - Bannister South 25.16 11.08 Service O - SOTICO 12.34 SS 21 - Michelin TV Stage 2.73 13.44 FINISH - Podium

Leg 3 Total 4 SS - 100.02 kms

RALLY TOTAL 21SS - 391.17 kms Total overall - 1283.23 kms

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Tommi Makinen , Colin McRae , Carlos Sainz , Freddy Loix , Richard Burns , Didier Auriol , Marcus Gronholm , Petter Solberg , François Delecour , Alister McRae , Juha Kankkunen , Kenneth Eriksson , Toni Gardemeister , Markko Martin